Monday, 22 January 2007

I Hate You Butler!

I was reading Iain Dale’s excellent West Ham blog this morning when I came across the post Where Are They Now: Peter Butler. Now, it is not often that I can help with questions like this but on this occasion I really can fill in a few blanks.

For anybody too young (or too old) to remember, Peter Butler was a combative and occasionally belligerent central midfielder who made about 70 first team appearances for West Ham at the back end of the Billy Bonds yo-yo years of the early to mid nineties. Always an energetic presence in the Hammers engine room, Butler was sometimes reminiscent of a dog chasing a balloon; a constant heel snapper and possession stealing counter point to the more thoughtful Ian Bishop. In the successful 1992/93 promotion season Butler played in nearly every game, culminating in the memorable 2-0 victory over Cambridge United that sparked a wild pitch invasion seconds before the final whistle. In a spiteful game that also confirmed Cambridge’s relegation, one of my lasting memories is of a brutal foul on Butler by Phil Chapple that referee David Elleray completely missed. Butler, obviously in a lot pain with a nasty wound opened up down his shin, struggled back to his feet as best he could without any thought of play-acting, complaining or retaliation and just got on with the game. Honest, unfussy and uncomplicated, Butler was cast from the same mould as his manager and was the embodiment of his tough northern roots.

The following 1993/94 Premiership campaign saw a slightly reduced role for Butler, but he still made over 20 appearances as the Hammers finished 13th. The next season he departed for Notts County and then onto Grimsby and WBA before returning home to Halifax for his final two seasons. It was there, in around 2000, that I bumped into him in a restaurant in the Calder Valley. He was standing in the bar area waiting for a friend who was running late. I recognized him instantly, and having already had a little bit to drink, had absolutely no reservation in approaching him. I remember calling over “I hate you Butler!” in a pretty crap Blakey impersonation and he just smiled politely like he had heard it more than a few times before or else he had no clue what I was talking about. Anyway, we ended up chatting for about twenty minutes. He wasn’t really playing much at the time as he had fallen out of favour with manager Paul Bracewell, and he was already making active plans to move into the property business somewhere out in the Far East. He had contacts interested in investing in the tourist industry in Bali.

I’m not sure what happened next but I do know Butler took a player/coaching role with Sorrento in the Western Australia Premier League in 2001. In 2003 he moved into a managerial position with Sabhar Rhinos in Malaysia, taking them to the Malaysian cup-final in his first season. By 2006 he had accepted the post as coach with the Singapore Armed Forces Football Club, known popularly as SAFF Warriors, but his attempts to implement Western training ideas apparently did not prove popular with the players. A terrible run of results, internal club disputes and private upheaval (his wife and family were still in Kuala Lumpur) saw Butler leave by mutual consent. That is where the trail runs cold. I’d like to think he has finally made it to Bali, lying on a beach somewhere rubbing chip fat into his goose-white, battle-scarred limbs, claret and blue knotted handkerchief on his head.

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